Sandra Bentien: Alone at the Top

When I am able to cover events live, I love to hear everyone’s stories. It’s part of my job: to listen and share your story. I met Sandra Bentien at the NRHA Futurity a couple of years ago and fell in love with her stallion, Gotta Twist It Up. The pair ended up winning the Level 3 & 2 Non Pro Futurity Championships in 2016, then came back to win the Level 4 Non Pro Derby Championship in 2018.

It was my privilege to share her story in the January 2018 issue of Horse & Rider magazine. She tells me how she survived her first pony, a black Shetland named Thunder, and moved on to teach herself the intricacies of reining.

“Competitors all dream of winning on the big stage. For reiners, that’s often at the Jim Norick Arena in Oklahoma City during either the National Reining Horse Association Derby or Futurity. Riders and trainer fantasize about being crowned the NRHA Futurity Champion, the penultimate title. Breeders hope they’ve produced the next prospect to wear the roses. Owners dream of taking those roses home to their mantels. 

“Rarely are all four of those people–rider, trainer, breeder and owner–under one hat. But when you’re the ultimate do-it-yourself non-pro, the stars can align for that to occur, as they did for Sandra Bentien at the 2016 NRHA Futurity.”

Sandra Bentien NRHA Non Pro Derby Championalone-2

Read the whole article on Horse & Rider’s website: DIY Rider Alone at the Top

A little behind the scenes look when Sandra was named 2018 NRHA Level 4 Non Pro Derby Champion with her homebred, Gotta Twist It Up.

2018 NRHA Derby NP Champion

Catching up with Sandra Bentien right after she’s named 2018 NRHA Level 4 Derby Champion.


Scenes from the 2016 NRHA Futurity

Once again I had the opportunity to attend the National Reining Horse Association‘s marquee event: The NRHA Futurity & Adequan North American Affiliate Championships.

I was doing coverage of the NAAC for the NRHA Reiner, and, as always, the experiences did not disappoint.

Sometimes the Futurity isn't just about the horses. This 5-month-old Kangaroo joey is named Rosie Roo, and she was attending her first Futurity with her owner.

Sometimes the Futurity isn’t just about the horses. This 5-month-old Kangaroo joey is named Rosie Roo, and she was attending her first Futurity with her owner.

That moment when you hear, "THE SCORE...." during the Open Finals. Andrea Fappani won the Level 4 on Spooky Whiz with a 225.5.

That moment when you hear, “THE SCORE….” during the Open Finals. Andrea Fappani won the Level 4 on Spooky Whiz with a 225.5.

Just doing some daydreaming of my next reining horse....

Just doing some daydreaming of my next reining horse….

Casualties of the dirt

Casualties of the dirt

The final breath... The final "whoa".... The final slide... The Finals

The final breath…
The final “whoa”….
The final slide…
The Finals

A Golden World Equestrian Games for USA Reining

Last week was a crazy one for me. I’ve learned it is particularly difficult to cover an event that is happening in France while you’re located in Kentucky. But, thanks to technology and social media, it wasn’t too bad. I was doing remote coverage of the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games for the and

It was a lot of fun to watch as Team USA reasserted their dominance in the sport we’ve perfected, by not only winning the fourth (or four) Team gold medal, but also sweeping the individual podium, including having one of the few five-time WEG gold medalists in Shawn Flarida, and the first woman to stand on the individual podium with Mandy McCutcheon.

A patriot sight to see the American flag over some cowboys. Photo courtesy Dirk Caremans/FEI

A patriot sight to see the American flag over some cowboys. Photo courtesy Dirk Caremans/FEI

During the event, I was lucky to be in contact with the owner of Andrea Fappani’s ride–Custom Cash Advance. Michael Miola is one of those owners whose passion for his horses and the sport of reining might overwhelm you, but you know his heart is with his horse. In fact, Miola and his farm, Silver Spurs Equine, were lucky enough to have two horses qualified for reining Team USA with Fappani. However, when they determined Smoking Whiz wasn’t 100 percent, they decided to go all-in with “Cash.” Fappani and Cash came home with a Team Gold and Individual Silver, which is pretty good considering the pair had only competed together one time before heading to France, and that was for the team qualifier held in April in Kentucky. Each time they competed, though, their scores improved–220 in Lexington, 224 in the team competition in Caen, and 229 in the individual round. Pretty impressive.

Andrea Fappani and Custom Cash Advance set the tone early for USA reining with a great Team run.Photo courtesy Dirk Caremans/FEI

Andrea Fappani and Custom Cash Advance set the tone early for USA reining with a great Team run.Photo courtesy Dirk Caremans/FEI

What was equally impressive, to me, was the heart in both Jordan Larson and the big buckskin stallion, HF Mobster. Larson’s one of those trainers that I don’t believe gets a lot of credit, but he’s behind a lot of the top horses today–in fact, he was the last rider of Custom Cash Advance before Fappani took the reins. And when you see “Mobster” you can’t help but hold your breath just want to pet him–that big blue eye, beautifully put together… They earned the Team Gold as well, and could have possibly earned an individual medal, if it hadn’t been for a scary slip during the last of his big, fast circles. Mobster’s heart totally shown through, however, when he continued the pattern without missing a step. (You can see the video below.)

And, of course, there’s the golden girl in Mandy McCutcheon. Riding the big palomino stallion Yellow Jersey, she showed that her parents made the right decision in letting her take the reins for her first trip as a competitor (not a support like she has in the past for husband Tom, and father Tim McQuay). She lit up the arena with her smile every time she finished the pattern. She rode her heart out, and Yellow Jersey gave her everything he had. Mandy’s done just about all a Non Pro can do in her storied career, but to see a woman finally on the individual podium (and a German female rider came in fourth), was pretty awesome.

Read more from the WEG with my articles on and

Team USA Reining Arrives in France for the World Equestrian Games
So what do you pack for a horse being shipped to Europe to compete in a world-class event? “Really nothing out of the ordinary,”  Michael explains. “The only thing different that was packed, besides Andrea’s saddle, bridles, blankets, etc., was that we sent a 50-pound bag of carrots for Cash’s treats along for the trip. He loves carrots!”

Team USA Starts Strong at 2014 World Equestrian Games
Miola said the “ear-splitting cheers” never subsided throughout Cash’s run and got even more intense as the pair set up for their closing rundowns and stops. “The scores before Cash’s run weren’t very high, with a 218 leading,” Miola explains. “When Andrea’s pattern was complete, the crowd continued cheering and stomping until the score was announced—a 224. Then, the crowd erupted again! I have never experienced this level of enthusiasm in my life. The Europeans really love reining.”

Team USA is Golden at 2014 World Equestrian Games
“The feeling is very emotional—I didn’t think it would be, but it is,” Miola says. “Cash is such a pleasant horse to be around. To see him and Andrea being honored like this, along with the other members of the team, brought tears to both Michelle’s and my eyes, especially when they played the National Anthem.”

2014 World Equestrian Games Wrap-Up: Team USA Sweeps Podium
Mandy McCutcheon, who is the only non pro and female NRHA Million Dollar Rider, told the media she feels lucky to place behind Flarida and Fappani. “I’ve been lucky to have the opportunities I’ve had for my whole career and the opportunities my parents have given me,” she says. “I couldn’t be more thankful or appreciative to them; I wouldn’t be here without them and the same thing with Tom.”

Adequan USA Reining Reigns Supreme
“It’s hard to put all I feel in words,” Mandy told the media. “I couldn’t be happier, my horse stepped up for me tonight and when they do that, they are great horses. To be behind two such great athletes as Shawn and Andrea is just an amazing feeling. It is an honor for me and I couldn’t be luckier to have had the opportunities I’ve had in my career.”

Reining Team USA Announced

Six riders are now preparing their passports for Normandy, France, after a stellar showing at the 2014 Kentucky Cup Reining Event held during the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington over the weekend. Over the course of two rides, the top reiners in the country battled it out for the honor to represent the United States in reining at the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG).

Shawn Flarida, riding Spooks Gotta Whiz, a 7-year-old stallion by Spooks Gotta Gun and out of Prettywhizprettydoes, won the CRI3* event with a cumulative score of 452.5. The “man in the green shirt” was untouchable as he claimed his fourth Kentucky Cup Championship. Finishing second was Mandy McCutcheon riding Yellow Jersey, a 10-year-old palomino stallion owned by her dad, Tim McQuay. Jordan Larson riding the buckskin stallion HF Mobster earned the bronze, and Andrea Fappani riding Smoking Whiz rounded out the top four.

Others chosen for the team included Fappani on Custom Cash Advance, Troy Heikes on Lil Gun Dunit, and Tom McCutcheon on Dun Git A Nicadual.

Kentucky Reining Cup Medalists: Shawn Flarida (gold), Mandy McCutchecon (silver), and Jordan Larson (bronze).

Kentucky Reining Cup Medalists: Shawn Flarida (gold), Mandy McCutchecon (silver), and Jordan Larson (bronze).

For Mandy and Heikes, it will be their first foray into the international spotlight, but both are seasoned competitors who are looking forward to the event.

“I’ll go into it just as another horse show,” said Heikes. “You go to horse shows for many years and you learn the psychology of how to prepare yourself, ready your horses, and not let the game beat you, so I’ll approach it like another horse show.”

For Mandy, she’s attended every WEG since reining joined the event in 2002. She attended as a supporter of either her father or husband, but this time she gets to compete, as the first woman on Team USA.

“I don’t really ever look at any of what I accomplish like [I’m the first woman to do this or that]. To me, we’re just competitors, not women and men,” she said. “It’s really fun. I get more nervous when either of them walk in the ring than when I do. This part is fun for me, just to enjoy it with them.”

While most of their horses still have to finish out the stallion season, the team will start to prepare for the trip across the ocean by keeping the horses on a conditioning program. “We’ve worked the last couple of years to get here with these horses, so there’s nothing that will distract us from [the WEG],” said Fappani. “From now until Normandy, that’s what we’re working towards.”

The team will learn about the different FEI rules, including riding schedules, team meetings, and more in the coming months, and they hope to be able to scout out the facilities before they ship their horses overseas. The games will take place August 23rd to September 7th, with reining being held August 25-30.

Who’s is the biggest competition for Team USA, a group that has claimed Team Gold ever since the first reining event at the WEG in Juerez, Spain, in 2002?

“Ourselves,” everyone stated in unison.

Team USA Reining: Shawn Flarida, Jordan Larson, Mandy McCutcheon, Andrea Fappani, Troy Heikes, and Tom McCutcheon.

Team USA Reining: Shawn Flarida, Jordan Larson, Mandy McCutcheon, Andrea Fappani, Troy Heikes, and Tom McCutcheon.

Here is Shawn Flarida and Spooks Gotta Whiz’s winning ride:

Expect a Good Time at Rolex!


It’s always fun to receive media credentials in the mail–I never get tired of it! Monday evening I received my media credentials for the 2014 Rolex Kentucky CCI**** Three-Day Event and the Kentucky Reining Cup, which will be held a the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington next weekend.

I’ll be doing double, or maybe it’s triple, duty during Rolex. First of all, I will be covering the atmosphere and surroundings of the event for the In the evenings I’ll be covering the Kentucky Reining Cup, which is one of the largest FEI Reining events in the world. It’ll also be the selection event for Team USA for the 2014 Alltech World Equestrian Games, which will be held in Normandy, France, in early Fall.

Meanwhile, I will get to work for Bit of Britain in their giant tent! I’ve attended Rolex in many different capacities, but this will be a first as I will be working for one of the sponsors and their Ariat boots representative. It’ll be fun to be part of a great company.

Be on the lookout on the and on my Facebook page for more details!

AKC National Agility Championship Coverage

I’m finally back from Harrisburg, Pa., where I was competing with my Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Dally, at the 2014 American Kennel Club National Agility Championships. This was not just a fun and competitive trip, but also a work trip. I was able to cover the event for the Canine Chronicle, both via the website and in the print magazine. I was able to do one quick write-up (unfortunately I had some computer issues that prevented me from doing more work) for the website, and I’m in the process of working on the event wrap-up as we speak.

(I also did a lot of work for The Daily Corgi blog, organizing #TeamDailyCorgi.)

Our trip out there wasn’t successful on my end 100%, but our traveling partners (and best friends) did awesome! I’m lucky that I get to interview my best friend for part of my event coverage because she and her Cardigan Welsh Corgi, Porter, won the Preferred National Championship in 4″! It was such an awesome thing to get to watch and cheer on my friend, cry with her and hug her as we celebrated together. I’ve seen the trials and tribulations she’s gone through training Porter, and I knew she was going to come out on top.

(Shamelessly stolen from Merinda's Facebook page, but how can you not love this photo?)

(Shamelessly stolen from Merinda’s Facebook page, but how can you not love this photo?)

Here is their amazing run:

Here’s a peak at the online coverage from the

The top canine athletes have converged on Harrisburg, Pa., to compete in the 2014 AKC National Agility Championships. This year 1,640 purebreds and mixed breeds representing 112 breeds and 48 states, including Canada, are competing for bragging rights as the National Champion in one of 11 jump heights.

The judges for this year’s event are Tom Slattery (Afton, Minn.), Alan Arthur (Leander, Texas), Carla Boudrot (Cleveland, Tenn.), Terri Campbell (Huntsville, Ala.), Diane Craig (Duluth, Minn.), Pamela “Candy” Nettles (Elmer, Okla.), and Howard Etzel (Hollidaysburg, Pa.).

Read more on the

Then be sure to check back here for when I post the final article from the magazine.